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Our findings on the balancing act between teaching, research, and community engagement

by Jake Wildman-Sisk Social Innovation Fellow, RECODE

This past Fall, RECODE began an online course called Systems Thinking for Social Change, offered by the Academy for Systems Change. Working alongside Karina LeBlanc of the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick and Ryan Murphy of RECODE’s hackED initiative, our aim was to try to answer some big questions.

Why are many Canadian post-secondary education institutions struggling to meet the demands of society despite intention, intelligence and goodwill within the system?


How can community and those within the post-secondary system work together to shift the system so that postsecondary education can continue to service and learn from a rapidly changing society?


How do we incentivize or restructure the system to help institutions have a more positive impact on communities?
Collectively, we were able to create a map of some of the greatest challenges and opportunities for supporting community engagement activities at Canadian schools. Although our understanding of the post-secondary ecosystem is still a work in progress, each team member brought a different perspective that elucidated a different part of our map. The team consulted with a former university president, which helped put our work in historical context. We also consulted with a small list of administrators and professors at different schools, which helped us identify current trends both supporting and hindering community engagement at different educational institutions.
The course was led by professor David Stroh, author of Systems Thinking for Social Change. David walked us through a four-step process of systems change:

  • Build a foundation for change and affirm readiness for change;
  • Clarify current reality and accept responsibility for creating that reality;
  • Make an explicit choice in favour of our aspiration; and
  • Bridge the gap between reality and those aspirations by focusing on leverage points, engaging stakeholders, and learning from experience.

With guidance from David, the team focused our efforts on understanding the incentive structures in higher education that perpetuate a traditional way of viewing institutional success. Community engagement is not celebrated in the same way as research and, often, teaching is. While there are examples of institutions playing key roles in their communities through partnerships, community service learning, and applied research, as an overall system Canada has an opportunity to support and celebrate this work as a more meaningful metric of success.
To dive into our final homework, and summary of our learnings click here.
If you have thoughts about how the Canadian educational system is currently engaged or could do this work better, reach out to let us know!

Apr 27, 2017 | Tags: